In a recent interview with techcrunch.com, Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, explains that in order for Google to continue to improve it:
…needs to move “from words to meaning.” In other words, Google needs to understand queries better, and return results that best match the real meaning of a query. “We have to get from the sort of casual use of asking, querying…to “what did you mean?””
In its quest to “read your mind”, Google has begun to factor in past search history, as well as i.p. address (geographic location), when serving up its results.
While some people may view this as an invasion of privacy, Google believes it is necessary in order to provide you with the best results. Not to mention, most of us have agreed to this “tracking” method by simply signing up for a Google Account (gmail, etc.)
According Google Account Terms of Service:
“Creating a Google Account will enable Web History. Web History is a feature that will provide you with a more personalized experience on Google that includes more relevant search results and recommendations.”
Although you can choose to not enable web history from the account set up page, enabling web history is set as the default, so MANY people do not disable it.
Google also scans the emails you send from gmail (using a formula, not human eyes) in order to customize the ads displayed on your gmail page.
“By offering Gmail users relevant ads and information related to the content of their messages, we aim to offer users a better webmail experience.”
What does this mean for gmail users?
You either have to get used to a certain level of privacy invasion or use a different email client. Some people actually prefer to have their ads modified. It creeps me out! I only use gmail as a throw-away account.
What does this mean when I do a search using Google?
Similar to the ads being customized (above) many times search results will be customized as well when you are signed into your Google account. Note the following examples when searching for “per diem nursing”
Notice that when I am logged into my Google account, the #2 listing is for a local company where I live in Colorado Springs.
In this example, I have not logged into my Google Account and you will notice that the local listing has disappeared.
What does this mean if I am a website owner?
It means that ranking reports are no longer accurate, as the results you see are probably not the same as the results someone else is seeing. You should turn to your webhosting logs and Google Analytics for a better picture of how well your website is performing.